Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Nahum 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verse 1


Nahum 2:1 to Nahum 3:19

The Fall of die City (2:1-13)

The Alarm (2:1)

The beginning of the so-called "long poem" against the city of Nineveh cannot be determined with any degree of precision; to some students it includes verses 11 and 14 of chapter 1 (omitting verses 12, 13, and 15) but does not include 2:2. However, it is more satisfactory to consider that the poem directed against the city of Nineveh begins with the alarm sounded in 2:1. The poet begins in narrative style, telling of the arrival of "the shatterer" or "scatterer" who confronts the doomed city. Immediately he addresses the inhabitants of the city, calling them to arms, to watch and to brace themselves for the assault. No particular historical personage can be identified from the term "shatterer," and it is evident from the rest of the poem that the call to arms is ironical. The doom of the city is sure, but as a preliminary to the account of its last days, the poet echoes the voice of the watchman as he alerts the people to the danger. How often had such an alarm alerted the inhabitants of other cities to the approaching devastation from the Assyrians!

Verse 2

A Prophetic Explanation (2:2)

Verse 2, printed in parentheses in the Revised Standard Version, must be treated as an addition to the descriptive poem on Nineveh. Whether written by the original poet or added by an editor, it offers a prophetic explanation of the divine purpose in the downfall of Nineveh. Only here and at Nahum 2:13 and Nahum 3:5 is the name or person of the Lord brought into the course of the descriptive poem, and of these only the last-mentioned appears to be original with the first writing of the long poem. The declaration in verse 2 refers not to Judah or Jerusalem, but to Jacob and Israel, ordinarily the designations used for the Northern Kingdom (before the fall of Samaria in 722-721 B.C.) or for Judah after the Exile as the successor of the once united kingdom.

The parenthesis declares the restoration of the people, Jacob-Israel, using the term "majesty" as the text stands, or perhaps (with a slight change of the text) the figure of the "grapevine." The plunderers who have stripped and ruined the branches are clearly the people of Nineveh and the Assyrian armies, who are now about to meet their own doom.

Verses 3-9

The Color and Confusion of Defeat (2:3-9)

An exceedingly graphic section of the poem documents the mad scurrying of chariots, officers, and non-combatants in the streets of Nineveh and in surrounding areas during its last hours before defeat.

The poet pictures the response of the soldiers quartered in the doomed city, as they are roused to its defense in answer to the call to arms. He notes the bright colors of shields and garments, the flashes of sunlight (and of torches?) from well-kept weapons and chariots, the prancing of the horses, and the excited movement of chariots in all directions. The scarlet clothes (and possibly the red shields) may well be a reference to the Medes, who together with the Babylonians and the Scythians brought about the actual destruction of Nineveh. This is a spectacular battle, alive with color and vividly descriptive of the attackers.

The confusion belongs to the defeated. Weary, perhaps from night watches, the officers "stumble as they go" (Nahum 2:5). Hastening to the wall, they see the movable shelter or "mantelet" protecting the besiegers set up against the walls. Inside the city a flood increases the confusion of the defenders as the dammed-up waters of the Tigris or of its tributary are released. An extrabiblical tradition regarding the fall of Nineveh refers to the disastrous effect of the flooding of the city, so it is probable that the enemies released the floodgates in order to increase the confusion and to destroy the city’s supply of drinking water.

The poet turns to the movement of frightened refugees, moaning and beating their breasts, and looting along the way, as stores of treasures are opened and poured out in spite of efforts to preserve some measure of discipline. The "mistress" of verse 7 cannot be identified; the translation is, in fact, only a conjecture concerning the meaning of the Hebrew word.

Verses 10-12

The Desolation (2:10-12)

All that can be seen is "desolation and ruin." In a brief section the poet describes the anguish of the people of Nineveh, reflecting on the similarity of the defeated city to a den of lions which has been robbed of its security. The question, "Where is the lions’ den . . .?" is the Hebrew idiom inquiring, "What has happened to the lions’ den?" The obvious answer is that the lion will now no longer bring prey for the lionesses and the cubs to devour. So the conquests of Nineveh are at an end.

Verse 13

A Prophetic Word (2:13)

The final verse of the chapter, printed as prose in the Revised Standard Version but possibly to be considered as the introduction of a different meter into the poem, provides an explanation of the destruction of the city from the point of view of God and also announces a final disposition for the lion cubs, whose continued existence seems implied by the preceding section of the poem.

Uncompromisingly against violence and oppression, the Lord of justice has taken his stand against Nineveh. Therefore the chariots will be burned in smoke and even the "young lions" will be destroyed. The prey will be cut off and the voice of emissaries will no longer be heard. These latter expressions refer to the gathering of tribute for the Assyrian king; no longer will his representatives enter the various subject kingdoms and make rapacious demands.

The poet-prophet was right. Though a new king, Ashuruballit, attempted to establish a continuing Assyrian rule at Harran after the fall of Nineveh, and later at Carchemish, his efforts were doomed to failure. The remnants of Assyrian power were gathered up by the Babylonians within a few years.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nahum 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/nahum-2.html.
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